Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) is calling on the federal government to keep fines exacted on Tonawanda Coke Corporation here in Western New York. This week the company was found guilty of violations to the Clean Air Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a verdict carrying upwards of $200 million in fines.
"We cannot allow the funds recovered as a result of this company's malfeasance to disappear into the black hole that is the federal budget,” said Higgins. “These funds must stay right here, in this community, where they can do the most good in an attempt to improve the lives of those who were negatively impacted and to improve the local community that was injured as a result of the company's actions."
For years residents have expressed concerns about improper environmental controls at Tonawanda Coke leading to air quality issues and potentially health problems. Tonawanda Coke’s violations are linked to the release of benzene, which is a known carcinogen.
Given the extent of damages environmental and otherwise to the local community, Congressman Higgins in a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice is asking for fines received by the federal government, as a result of this federal case, to be directed back into the community that has been directly and significantly impacted by the company’s negligence.
Below is a copy of Congressman Higgins’ letter
March 30, 2013
Dear General Holder:
I write today to congratulate you and your colleagues at the United States Department of Justice on your successful prosecution against the Tonawanda Coke Corporation. This effort is particularly commendable as it is only the second successful criminal prosecution involving the Clean Air Act in the entire nation. Sadly Western New York is no stranger to similar health and environmental issues. Residents at Love Canal were exposed to toxic waste dumped by Hooker Chemical in Niagara Falls, NY and workers at Bethlehem Steel were unknowingly exposed to uranium dust during the Cold War era in Lackawanna, NY. In both of these cases, as with the Tonawanda Coke case, citizens stood up, fought back, and in the end, truth and justice prevailed.
I further write to ask that, to the extent that the Department of Justice has discretion with regard to the disposition of the proceeds associated with the verdict, that these funds be used to ameliorate the specific violations associated with this case. Specifically, I ask that these funds be used to satisfy claims with individual local claimants to the extent appropriate and also be applied toward a fund for the remediation and the enhancement of the environment in the immediate vicinity of the facility to the extent possible.
The neighborhoods in immediate proximity to the plant have suffered specific harms and measurable environmental degradation as a result of the release of benzene and other pollutants from the Tonawanda Coke facility. It is wholly appropriate that the proceeds of this legal action be used to mitigate the several decades of environmental injury which these communities have suffered.
Again, congratulations for your successful defense of the environmental resources of the Unites States in general and of Western New York State in particular. This verdict was won through your work and the tireless efforts of unyielding residents. I am grateful for your leadership and your consideration of this request.
Member of Congress